Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Trúmál

I probably just made up a word, trúmál. Or maybe not. But anyhow, this blog is about religion. And not religion in the stereotypical elitist pseudo-intellectual way of "all wars are caused by religion" or "God is a figment of people's mass hysteria" or "every religious person is a hypocrite and liar." No, what I want to talk about is the thing about Christian religion that I like best. A few weeks ago at St. Columba's near my house here in Kent, I broke down in heavy, sobbing tears. The lady sitting next to me, Amy, she was so sweet about it, genuinely concerned, concerned enough that when I went back there yesterday, she recommended a book to me and took my phone number and email. It was nice. I told her that I was feeling silly for spending my life doing such an easy job, for not really taking on the hard challenges and making a difference.

But that caring compassionate warm community of smart and genuine individuals that I've found at St. Columba's is pretty rare, most churches are a good bit more nice in the kind of way that just makes you feel more lonely. So that is not the thing that I like best about Christianity, indeed I am sure you can find cool interesting genuine people in lots of places, and probably more so outside of churches than in them.

What I like best about Christianity is the completely bizarre, inscrutable and delightful belief at the core of Christianity - the mystery of the Trinity. I might have talked about that before on this blog, but I was thinking about it driving home tonight (yes, tonight - I worked until 9:30pm in my office but then the automatic lights shut off on me, and I thought that was a sign I should go home, even though I wasn't done).

I am trying to remember exactly where it was in Iceland when I saw a landscape that made me feel the way the Trinity does. Any word I think of is totally inadequate. Beautiful, surpassing beauty. The kind that made me catch my breath and stare, absolute perfection from every angle. Secure, surpassing safety, the kind that only comes from feeling surrounded in a place where you are completely known by an awesome intelligence. Awake, totally awake to the singularity of that moment, able to act and say and do exactly that which much be said and done. Perfection, in other words. Awe-inspiring perfection. The details of the when and where don't matter, but the memory of it sticks with me, the feeling that I have experienced a miracle. And I am humbled and awed and grateful for it, to have comprehended a sliver of the truth of life.

The Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in the mysterious, miraculous, singular perfection of the Trinity. And I was thinking driving home tonight how patently ridiculous they are, plodding along the street, knocking on doors from house to house, going from one road to the next. As if walking down a street like a robot, handing out little magazines filled with platitudes was anywhere even near to the calling, to the example, to the potential in all of us to be so much more.  To be godlike.

I won't go back to knocking on doors, walking around passing out pieces of paper. Don't look for me there, don't seek me there. It is an absolute insult to the incredible, amazing gift we have been given, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. The core of Christianity.

 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Suðurgata

When I was a child, I spent many of my summers in Iceland, and much of the time during those summers at my amma and afi's house in Keflavík, on Suðurgata. My mother never identified with that house much, since her parents bought it after she married my dad and moved to the States. Instead, in her mind her childhood home is on Solvallagata.

Still, when her parents died, they willed the house to all four of their kids, my mother included. Parents do this often in wills, think somehow that one house can be split between four people, but that never works in reality. In this case, it is even less practical, because my mother's brother actually lives in the house. And he was able to arrange it so that his other siblings ceded their parts to him. So now he claims 3/4 of the house.

My mom has had her 1/4 for years now, and has even helped pay for repairs, etc. But she has never taken any advantage of it, well, except in 2006, when we had Palmer's baptism party in that house.

Last night, Palmer was asking me why we aren't going to Iceland this summer. I told him it is because we don't have anywhere to stay. I'm not going to beg my cousins to let me sleep on their couch again like I did in January, especially not with my son along as well. And I'm not going to get a hotel room in a place I once considered home.

So instead I plan to take my son to an Icelandic camp in Gimli, Manitoba. They will teach him some Icelandic, and I told him it would make things easier for when he does get to see his Icelandic cousins. But when or how or if that will ever happen, I have no idea. I am not planning on anything.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Entitled

I am teaching a course this semester on Museum Studies, and have 18 students enrolled. I decided to have them not just study museums but actually try their hand at doing museum work, namely, putting on an exhibition. And since this is a Spring semester course, it made the most sense to open before the semester was over. So I decided we should open the exhibit around May 1st, and the theme of the exhibition should be the Labor Movement. This is an unorthodoxed, circuitous way to come at the theme of an exhibition, but then exhibit topics are always a touch of kismet. I liked it mostly because it is a topic I only know about from my time living in Iceland and discovering to my surprise that May 1st is an international holiday, International Workers' Day, and that it is celebrated in Iceland. It is not celebrated in the U.S. anymore, although it used to be. I guess McCarthyism did a good job wiping out open dialogue about real, substantive Labor issues. Now it all seems to Commie.

The title of the exhibition I put up as an initial one was "Love of Labor". But I am running the class as a workshop, very participatory and democratic, and so I gave the students a chance to weigh in on the title. They decided to go with No Labor Lost, and explained that although the Labor movement fight took place a century ago, they wanted to get across the sense that it hasn't been forgotten.

It occurs to me that their dislike of my title may well have been because of the many meanings associated with the word Love in English. Other languages, including Icelandic, have several words that all get translated into English as love. For young people on a university campus, looking across the stacks of books at someone who catches their eye, the word love is about unconditional, emotional, long-lasting feelings, the kind that can weather anything, overcome anything. So I suppose they did not like that word getting used in its more limited, conditional, practical, pragmatic, day-to-day sense of work, of commitment, of dedication.

Of course, I knew all along exactly what kind of love I meant.

Anyhow, the exhibit is opening on Sunday, May 1st, at 4pm. It will include a bit about worker safety and labor laws for fisherman in Iceland, and anyone who is interested is welcome to come by and see the fruits of our labor. Admission to the Scandinavian Cultural Center on the campus of PLU is free.

Monday, April 11, 2016

You know what it reminds me of....

So I'm in the Seattle area, working near Tacoma. I.E., literally half a world away from Iceland. And I wanted to report that the news of Iceland's leadership failure is not just popular for a few select late night comedians. I'm hearing about it from all sorts of people who know little to nothing about Iceland.

In other words, this situation is really embarrassing, publicly and obviously so. And what Icelanders should be embarrassed about is not just that they elected a self-serving simpleton.

Rather, the most telling part of his interview on Swedish TV was not him stammering and walking away like a thin skinned, unprofessional and immature person, but when he said, "Icelandic politicians are not used to getting these sorts of questions." That to me is what Icelanders should be embarrassed about. That we don't have a functioning investigative journalism sector and therefore politicians are not used to being held accountable.

So the anger is justified and it is real, but the question is where is it directed and what is the fix? Surely any decent media investigative effort would have revealed this tax shelter company years ago. As SDG said, it had been listed among his wife's assets. The embarrassing thing is that no one in Iceland called him on it, it took an outsider to do the responsible thing. This financial deal should have excluded him from the prime minister position from the get go.

But instead, Icelandic journalists didn't do their job, and now Icelanders will have to put up with being teased over and over again about it.

I don't like being teased personally, but I'm not 100% Icelandic so I can't presume everyone in Iceland gets as defensive as I do around people that have teased me. Maybe Icelanders are so used to living their lives in the open, warts and all, that it just seems funny and then they let it go. I remember an Icelandic friend of mine didn't think I was being enough of a feminist, so he teased me by sharing with me a video of some woman completely humiliating herself in some ridiculous see-through outfit and crazy dance. Well, this did the trick in terms of getting me to want to stand up for myself. But it also kind of ruined our friendship because it made me very defensive. I realized he didn't respect me, and now whenever I talk to him, I find myself doing everything I can to show him I'm a smart, strong, cool, connected, interesting person. I can't laugh at his jokes anymore and it's just different. So that's too bad, he tried to help me, he did help me, but it made me embarrassed and put my defenses way up.

I am glad to see that Icelanders, other than SDG and his mom and dad, don't seem to be blaming the foreign media for the embarrassing situation they find themselves in. It isn't the media's fault, they were doing their job, so don't get defensive, Iceland. Listen, improve, learn, and laugh.

Not that I did that, but maybe you still can.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Fastelavn

Last night at the Scandinavian Cultural Center we did an abbreviated version of bun day and oskudagur, with a dash of Danish Fastelavn (where they hit a barrel decorated with black cats and filled with candy). It was fun. While most of the students there said they had no plans to observe the Lent fast that is supposed to begin today (Ash Wednesday), two students were planning on doing so.

And that got me thinking, so I've decided to give up something for Lent to, namely, writing in this blog and reading other people's blogs. 

While that might not seem like much, for me its important, because I'm a bit ocd about it. Its the first thing I do before I even get out of bed, scroll through a list of blogs. It's not healthy, either physically, mentally, or emotionally. 

But the point is not to treat Lent like a new year's resolutions. Rather, what is given up is given up in a spirit of love and hope and appreciation. That there can be selfless, kind, generous and genuine, honest and forthright acts in this world, and that is what we need to be trying to emulate, publicly and openly. 

Silently lurking around a bunch of blogs, not commenting on them or not posting comments I receive, none of that is in the spirit of Lent. 

Do take care of yourself and those around who love and care about you while I'm gone. Try to remember the world is as good of a place as we help make it. 

 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Student workers

When I was in Iceland, I was pleased to see that many of the scholars and colleagues I met seemed to be very happy that I now have a position as the Director of the Scandinavian Cultural Center at PLU. I should have actually told vikurfrettir I was in town, or even DV. I forget that in Iceland, news is at a totally different scale than in the US. I'm mildly newsworthy in Iceland, but not at all so in the US. Funny thing is that if I were more entrenched in the hierarchy of academia, I'd be less newsworthy than I am working in a sort of hybrid public outreach/academic setting. It is interesting that I'm in a position to have mild influence in two disparate directions, public programming and academic discourse. I don't know why or how that happened, except of course it's a natural part of my personality, something I've always gravitated towards. Guess that's what drew me to museums in the first place, they were complicated. And even within academia, I'm an interdisciplinary scholar. I just don't like to be in one neat simple category. That might be something I should talk to a psychiatrist about, but I don't think it's about a fear of commitment or lack of sense of belonging. I think I deeply engage simultaneously in multiple directions, or at least I know I can do so, when I'm feeling most myself and most happy. In fact, I'd take it as a sense of failure and disappointment if I limited myself to one, I'd be doing so out of lack of confidence. Wow, sorry for babbling. It's just that I do sometimes feel the need to explain why I'm not in a more traditional academic job, why I was really the only one qualified for the job I have. I like having my feet in two totally worlds, and in trying to grab from those worlds the elements that can make something new, something that's never existed before. I like bridging the gap between academia and the public.

But it does mean I am by definition overworked and stretched too thin.  So I need help, good help from people who get where I am coming from. Today I'll be meeting with my two new student workers, Courtney and Katherine. They are both Marketing and Communication majors, and they will both be helping me with outreach.

At first it seemed excessive to bring both of them on board, and maybe one of them will quit or they will not get along or whatever. But for at least the foreseeable future (this semester), I'm excited to have both of them working with me. We've got a ton of events coming up, a membership drive to carry out, a woefully inadequate database, and the need to really build an audience. So there is plenty to do, and as they always say, two heads are better than one.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Moveable feast

Iceland has gotten progressively more international and diverse in its food selection over the years, and this trip, it was particularly noticeable. The first two nights I was in town, I stayed with my relative Þórdís in Keflavík, and the first night, I brought home Thai food from my favorite restaurant in Keflavík, named, not surprisingly, Thai Keflavík. The following night she brought home one of her favorite dishes, a ready-made Chinese duck with mooshoo pancakes that I think she got at Nétto. I then migrated over to my friend Sigrún's house in Reykjavík, where she was kind enough to have made a full Icelandic leg of lamb dinner for me, along with these amazing rolls she learned how to bake in England. The next night Sigrún and I went out to Serrento's for dinner, which we both thought was going to be Italian pasta but it turned out to be Mexican food, I had a quesadilla. But it was back to Asia for dinner on Tuesday, first having Sushi in Kópavogur with my relative Bryndís, followed by more sushi at Sushi Samba with my friends Gísli and Örnólfur. And my last night in Iceland, over at Bryndis brother, Leifur, in Keflavík, we had a wonderful creamy chicken soup with peppers that counts as modern Icelandic cuisine I think, at least it was something his wife regularly served at special occasions like baptisms and confirmations.

Mid-day meals were a lot more traditionally Icelandic. I had kjötsuppa for lunch twice, both my first full day in Iceland and my last day, and I had a 3pm coffee with cakes and that creamy asparagus ham and cheese dish both on Sunday and on Tuesday, once with my cousins in Sandgerði and the second time with my mom's cousin in Reykjavík. Monday lunch was "rettir dagsins" at HÍ, a wonderful fish dish, ýsa with salad. Wednesday I also ate at HÍ, but I didn't get rettir dagsins since it was tuna in pasta (yuck), but I must say I don't remember what I did get, I was too distracted by all the rigmarole around me. Tuesday lunch was at that great restaurant next to the Saga Museum down by the harbor, I very much recommend it, Mattur og Drykkur it is called. They only serve traditional Icelandic food, but with a modern twist. I had the fiskibollur, very good. And Thursday, although I had already had the lamb soup for lunch at Víkingaheimar (which is incredibly good, super food really, good for what ails ya), I went ahead and got a hotdog also. Because what is a trip to Iceland without einn með öllu.  

I like the emergence of a varied Icelandic pallet, a bit of this, a bit of that. A splash of South American spices never hurt anything, but I must say, if I am going to have sushi in Iceland, I don't want it to have mayonnaise on it. The fresh raw fish is just way too good.

It is like social media in a way. I don't think I am the only person who compartmentalizes myself online: my facebook self is more "normal" than my instagram self. And my blogger self is a lot more chatty than my email self. So we all need multiple outlets to express the full of our beings. But what we don't need is to only eat one kind of food over and over and over again, day after day after day, endlessly. Iceland joined the modern world so it could eat something other than kjötsúppa daglega.


* Who I am on Skype is none of your business.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Iowa Caucus

Today are the Democratic and Republican primaries in Iowa. This is just the first of 50 primaries all across the country, and then there will be the conventions for each party and then the general election. So it's a long way from knowing what direction this country will take for the next four years.

But even though nothing definitive will get decided today, as the people of Iowa sit around coffee tables in quiet little corner rooms caucusing, there is one thing really important that has already happened, sometime in the last week or so. And here's what it was: people suddenly and completely realized that they are not the least bit crazy for believing in Bernie Sanders and his Socialist agenda.

To Icelanders, who have lived with Bernie Sanders-type ideas for a very long time, that might seem like no news at all, bara sjalfsagtmál. But for those of us here, socialist ideas have always been kept at arms length, a scary, foreign secret society, with the real possibility people would get persecuted for espousing them.

And it really wasn't until just last week, when the Bernie Sanders campaign reported it raised millions of dollars and was tracking neck and neck with Hillary, that the supporters, for the first time, were able to look up with confidence and say, "hey, we aren't crazy!" That in and of itself is monumental. A huge deal in U.S. politics. To see in the eyes of fellow voters that the ideas he's been talking about have not just been falling on deaf ears, floating into a meaningless void.

I mean if you look back even to this summer, it didn't seem anyone was really taking Bernie Sanders seriously. Whatever popular enthusiasm there was for his ideas was still well-hidden, tucked away and not allowed to express itself. But something turned last week, and that in and of itself is huge news, people willing to just sit around and say yes, I think it is a good idea for us to help each other out more. Willing to concede that maybe it's time for a change.

When I was in Iceland, people kept asking me who I thought was going to be the next president, asking me if I was scared about Trump or mad at Hillary. But I am not looking that far ahead. I have no idea what is going to happen today, let alone three weeks from now or six months from now. I've given up prognosticating on general elections, although I'm glad I was right about Obama easily winning reelection.

Instead I'm just still at the point of appreciating what a huge turning point it is in U.S. politics for supporters of Bernie Sanders to not feel like they are crazy.

We've had other moments like this, when the reformist left had gotten it's hopes way up, only to see them terribly crushed, the believers ridiculed for thinking they had a right to believe in ideals. This time has already been different, and that's exciting in more ways than one.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Northern Lights

I saw the Northern Lights briefly during my trip to Iceland, dancing there in the corner of the sky. I didn't get a picture of it, seems almost disrespectful to try to limit a miracle of nature into something so mundane.

I have been awed by the moon on its own sometimes, and when the stars are shinning bright they are wonderful to behold. But there is nothing in the entire world quite like the delicate interplay of green and blue moving seamlessly, wordlessly as one, across the heavens, oblivious to their power to transfix everyone around them. 

The first time I saw the Northern Lights, I was totally overwhelmed. I remember standing outside, completely mesmerized. And afterwards I cried, and I was shaking. Honestly, the experience was so overpowering that the idea for instance of taking a Northern Lights tour created an anxiety, a fear in me. I didn't think I could handle it, not in any kind of public setting. So intense, so personal, so beautiful, I'd just be an emotional wreck.

I wouldn't say I am entirely used to them now, not by a long shot. For me, they still contain the power to make the whole world disappear around me, and all I see are those colors shimmering above me. But on this last trip to Iceland, they didn't scare me, they seemed like old friends I'd missed so much. I was so grateful I got to see them, disappointed the display didn't last a bit longer.

I was listening to Kermit's song this morning, the Rainbow Connection Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we've been told and some choose to believe it
I know they're wrong, wait and see.


And we've been told the same with the Northern Lights, its an illusion of sorts, a bending of light. And some could choose to believe that, that they can be explained as a scientific phenomena. But I know they're wrong, I know the Northern Lights are much more than that. Delicate, ephemeral, powerful, eternal. A sort of perpetual ying and yang in the sky, reminding us that life contains a depth of mystery and magic, in those rare moments when just the right conditions are met. And I am standing there, part of it all.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Víkingaheimar, take 2

When I was in Iceland last week, I spent a lot of time in Víkingaheimar and talking about Víkingaheimar with the people now running it and others that know it well.

The history of Víkingaheimar, some of the things that didn't happen and the things that did happen, is not a completely happy one, and it was especially unlucky to try to open just after in the the Kreppa struck. And there are a lot of things unknown about the future of Víkinaheimar, who is going to do what and what changes are going to happen both inside and out.

But I was very happy about two things. First of all, I was happy about how I felt walking into Víkingaheimar. You never know how you are going to feel until the exact moment when you are there, and my emotions could have been anywhere on the spectrum from upset and angry to not caring to annoyed. But instead I was just genuinely and spontaneously happy, and it felt good that I was that engaged, that I am not so scared as to be cut off from feeling happy. It felt good to be there, looking at the view, smelling the tar and the wood.

And then I stopped by on my last day, not for long, just to pick something up. It was really sweet though to see that the people working there had really taken to heart a few of my suggestions, and had actually implemented them, had moved some things around and made some changes I had asked for. That was really sweet. It is such a good feeling, even if it isn't some big dramatic overhaul, just to feel like I was listened to, that I was respected, that my opinion matter. And that people were glad I had come.

All you can do is one step at a time, and be glad for what you got, rather than stewing over what you didn't.

Which reminds me, the lamb stew at Víkingaheimar is really delicious. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sigrun's rugs

While I was in Reykjavík, I was fortunate to get to stay with my artist friend, Sigrun Lara Shanko. I first got to know her silk work because it was Viking inspired, with runic texts and images of Viking Age artifacts painted in muted colors on  smooth silk, imported from China. It was impressive work and it sold well at Víkingaheimar.

But I'm very glad she switched over to making wool rugs. They are dominated by undyed, muted colors, grey, black and white but with lines of color weaving through, inspired by the Icelandic landscape. Like deep blue rivers running through ash-laden valleys or molten lava inching down a hillside, hard and black on top, red underneath. The hints of color in a neutral setting are so alluring: the blues mesmerize you like the eyes of your lover, the only thing you see in a room of 200 people, the deep reds reach out to you and hug you even when hanging in the farthest corner. It's amazing.

Her rugs are made out of pure Icelandic wool, so they are natural and warm and they will last forever.

Here's a link to her website: www.shankorugs.com

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sad Car

Up on Ásbru, the new name of the former NATO Base, where my parents met and where I used to live, is a car rental company called Sad Cars. That's where I got my dented, rusting, 1998(?) green Yaris. The back windshield wiper doesn't work, and it has no hubcaps, and it has a vague oily smell after it's been driven for a whole, and there is a funny noise if you break while turning. I guess that's why it's a sad car. 

It's OK, I'm sad too. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Liljevalchs

I hope my readers will forgive me for being so tardy in blogging. Let's just say it isn't a good idea to travel with two deadline projects back home left unfinished. After sleeping in past breakfast time at the hotel this morning (I had been awake working until 5am and then finally fell asleep hard), I salvaged what I could of the day by walking over to the island where the Nordiske Museet, Skanse, and Vasa Museum are located. I was very glad a museum colleague of mine had recommended I see an exhibit at another museum, called Liljevalchs. It is was a bit further down the path but well, well worth it.

The exhibit is called Utopian Bodies, which is a very intersting way to think of clothing, as our idealized self. The exhibit, which took over the whole museum, had all sorts of complex philosophical ideas about dystopias and Utopias, about technology and sustainability, and about conformity. But my two favorite galleries were the last two, one dealing with Judith Butler and gender, with displays of wonderful gender non-conforming clothing, and the last one dealing with love and joy and playfulness.

Anyhow, here is a link for those with an open enough mind to imagine a future unlike our present. http://www.liljevalchs.se/english/exhibitions/utopian-bodies-fashion-looks-forward/

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hotel Esplanade

When I booked this hotel online a few weeks ago, it's location reminded me of a hotel I stayed at in Stockholm in 1998, when I was working on the Viking exhibition at the Smithsonian. That hotel was a small botique hotel right in the waterfront, and although the three other people on the trip with me were unimpressed, I remember liking it very well, even though my room was tiny.

So I did not hesitate to book at Hotel Esplanade, close to the museum and right on the waterfront. It is an old hotel, and I think it may well be the same one I stayed at all those years ago. What I like about it is that it is a weird hybrid, kind of like a bed and breakfast more than a hotel. There is no elevator for one, so that makes it like a house. But the real distinction is the decor, which is a hodgepodge of styles. There are beautiful antique pieces from the 1800s, including even the desk in my room, intermixed with cool mid century modern pieces, like my coffee table, and then 1980s style floral covered chairs and couches. Plus two Victorian end tables. This I like. I like the messy palimpsest, I like the lack of consistency, I like that you are wading into the reality of this hotel. It's been here a while. They don't have the money to hire some fancy corporate designer with an overbearing and artificial design agenda to come in and whitewash that reality away.

Call me old fashioned, but I prefer things more organic, the way they used to be.

Arlanda airport

I like how the architecture of allthe Nordic airports feel similar, such that when I arrived in Sweden it felt familiar. And then, as I made my way from the plane to the luggage drop to the train station, I recalled another reason it felt so familiar. I was here in 2009 for the Saga Conference, and the experience at Arlanda was not good. I had to pay a lot in extra baggage fees.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

I am almost ready

Just one more email to send asking for a meeting, and one last decision about where to stay Monday and Tuesday (with relatives or at a hotel??), but otherwise I think I might be ready. To see places and people in Iceland that bring up many memories, both good and bad, and to make a fresh start with people I haven't seen in years.

So I probably should stay with my mother's cousin....

Monday, January 11, 2016

Asylum seeker

In the exhibition we are opening on Wednesday, entitled "Forgotten Nordics: Ethnic Diversity and National Narratives", there is a photo of a young girl denied asylum in Norway in 2013. She was sent back to Iran, where she was killed.

I can only imagine what it is like, to be an asylum seeker, desperately and repeatedly asking to be please be allowed to become part of a society you have only been able to experience in measured doses but you know is so much better than whence you came or any where else you might possibly go.

The two artists who took her photo and turned it into a graphic print were Norwegian. I suppose it was there way of dealing with the culpability, the guilt, of denying this poor girl her basic right to a life of freedom, expression, love, and hope for a future.





Sunday, January 10, 2016

On making female friends

When I worked at Vikingaheimar, I worked mostly with men: Gunnar Marel, Arni Sigfus, Steinthor Jonsson. But in my current job, I work almost entirely with women.

This has been a challenge for me, because throughout most of my life, starting all the way in elementary school, I have tended to have more male friends than female friends. People I would engage in casual conversation on a regular basis, tell them what was going on in my life, were guys. I'd have one close girl friend and the rest were guy friends. So I have never, ever mastered the skill of hanging out with a group of women. Tried it for one year in 7th grade and hated it.

But because the women I work with are all volunteers, and they have all known each other for years and are all good friends with each other, I have to try to fit into their social group. I am of course the youngest in the group, which I am used to.

Right now a small, closeknit group of us have been meeting practically weekly to go over the bylaws for my organization, which governs how this group of volunteers interacts with the university. It is a touchy subject and the bylaws have taken up a huge chunk of my time, because everyone wants the balance to tip in their favor, naturally. And this group of dedicated volunteers, they expect it to tip in their favor and they see it as my job to see that it does. So it is a stressful thing, and it helps a lot if we meet over beer or wine and, and here is the hard part, if I am friends with these women.

So last night over barbeque, I decided to pull an ace out of my sleeve. How can I get these women to relate to me as a woman, as a friend, as a non-threatening person, as someone certainly in no way superior to them? I decided to let them in on a very delicate secret, which I am now going to tell to my blog readers. You don't need to keep reading if female fertility and sexuality is not of interest to you.

10 minutes into dinner, I blurted out that I have the hormone profile of a 65 year old woman. They wanted to know more, I had their rapt attention. They said you mean you are pre-menopausal? I said no, I am post-menopausal, as in haven't had a period in over a year, totally done for, finite, just got put on hormone replacement therapy, 65 year old woman in danger of osteoporosis. They were stunned, and then they started sharing their uterine horror stories. Emergency hysterectomy at 50. Beat out by the one who had such terrible endimetriosis at 36 that it took 3 surgeries to get all the crap out and now her stomach is blown out. The last lady tried to top us, but she's a fit and sexually active, well-functioning 65 year old who hasn't even had hot-flashes yet, so la di da, I was in the mix! I fit in! I wasn't the outlier for once!

It actually is really liberating, said the one who is now dating an award winning peace activist, to be at this stage in life, and to now be able to date men you find interesting and you respect, whose moral compass points in a direction you want to follow the rest of your life, instead of just dating some guy you think is cute. We all agreed we were happy to be liberated from the hormonal constraints of estrogen, to be 21st century women thanks to our post-menopausal bodies.  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Are Icelanders back to work yet?

I saw a billboard yesterday for Red Bull and it said "Becuase CEOs don't take rainchecks" and I thought wow, that's a totally American advertisement. One should be running around living an artificial and unhealthy lifestyle just to keep the wheels of capitalism spinning. When I worked in Iceland it took me a long while to get used to the fact that such was not the underlying social contract in Scandinavia. People have a right to a good quality of life, they shouldn't be mindlessly following the set path in life: get married, have kids, climb the corporate ladder.

I've been back in the US system for a while, and am certainly working too many hours too often. But I'm not willing to relinquish the Scandinavian mentality, which gets me in some trouble. For instance I'm often late for things, and at my annual review today I have to try to explain why.

But the fact that Scandinavians have aparently still not returned to work after Christmas is shocking to me, I guess it was holiday all the way through epiphany on the 6th of January. That's the only explanation I have for why four of my colleagues in Iceland still haven't replied to emails I sent requesting a meeting three weeks ago.

I am getting increasingly annoyed by that, because well I can't take a raincheck on this trip. It's either now or never.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Marlboro Menthols

My student intern and I have been working diligently on putting together a new exhibition, called Forgotten Nordic: Ethnic Diversity and National Narratives, or something like that. Not really sure about the part after the colon. The exhibition is organized by Viking plurality, Religious minorities, modern migrants, the war torn, colonialist, and national identities. Basically, the exhibit argues that nationalism totally destroyed most Scandinavians ability to see themselves in a multi-cultural society, although this applies more to Norway, Denmark, and Iceland than Sweden and Finland.

It is has been a particularly intellectually challenging exhibit, one that comes at the end of the mindlessly busy and emotional holiday season. So it has taken me some concerted effort to really focus on it.

One thing that helps is that my student intern smokes, and well, by gosh by golly, I decided to go out there and smoke with her. Marlboro menthols aren't bad, I must say.

She was telling me that in Europe, all the packs of cigarettes say exactly the amount of nicotine, and the amount of tar, and the amount of carbon monoxide per cigarette. So one really knows what one is getting. This is not the case in the United States, here the pack simply says "contains carbon monoxide" and nothing else. There is no real way to compare one brand of cigarette with another, to know which is stronger, which is more addictive, which is more poisonous.

It is unbelievably unfair to the U.S. consumer. I am so sick of living in a country that doesn't make any effort to put the welfare of its citizens first.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Finnish history

Tonight I went to a rather extensive talk (79 slides!) about Finnish history.  The speaker, a graduate student working on his dissertation, emphasized that there are many dark parts of Finnish history that never get talked about. Sad times when terrible things happened, like the civil war and the red and white terrors. But through it all there was enough of a sense of democracy and law that things moved forward, rather than turning even darker.

It's all so hard, because it seems untrue to ignore the past, to push things under the rug, but on the other hand, talking it out can reopen wounds and trauma all over again. A nation has to be able to move forward.

This morning I bought my ticket to Iceland, and my niece passed her driver's test, and my sister made it down to my parents house safely.